Ripping out Johnny
Bloomberg made a good point
earlier this week, with a piece about how self-driving cars won’t become widespread until they can be pulled over automatically by the police.
If the cops try to stop you in your autonomous vehicle, but the vehicle refuses to stop, or simply doesn’t recognise the police as an authority it must pay attention to, that’s a problem.
It’s good to see car companies digging in to look for a solution to policing in an automated world. But my biggest concern was ‘what does this mean for the future of the car chase scene in movies?’ I still can’t help but feel like we’re robbing fiction writers of the staples of their craft, one-by-one.
Nowadays, some movies have to contrive a scene where the protagonist loses their phone so they can get lost, or be unable to look up simple information, to serve the plot.
As my former colleague Paul Sawers said on Twitter
, “Pretty sure if the woman in Psycho looked up Bates Motel online reviews, she would’ve steered clear.” And if her car was driving itself, maybe it would have read those reviews itself and taken her to the local Holiday Inn instead.
We can expect future on-screen criminals to have to hack their getaway car’s software so they can avoid the cops later.
1990 film Total Recall has a precedent for this. Arnold Schwarzenegger, on the run from the authorities, jumps into a 'jonnycab,’ driven by a robot called Johnny. Frustrated that the robot requires a specific destination and doesn’t understand commands like “just drive!,” Arnie rips poor robo-Johnny from his seat and drives manually to make a swift escape.
'Ripping out Johnny’ won’t be anywhere near as fun or visually interesting in films set in the real world in years to come, and our stories will be all the less fun for it.